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Lake City Council fires city manager, replaces him with the HR manager he previously fired

Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 11:38 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Monday night’s Lake City council meeting took an unexpected turn after City Manager Joe Helfenberger was terminated and former Human Resources Manager Ami Fields was appointed interim city manager. Field’s said she was wrongfully terminated by Helfenberger.

Supporters of Fields began calling for Helfenberger’s resignation last week after she was fired.

Related story: Former Lake City Human Resources Manager claims wrongful termination, supports call for firing of the City Manager

Fields’ mission at the beginning of the council meeting was to ask the board to rescind her termination as human resources manager.

She said she has more than 20 years of human resources experience and was planning to make changes.

“Public records redactions, social media usage, administrative leave and investigation, performance improvement, security and awareness,” Fields listed.

But after being in the position for just about two months, she was never told she wasn’t doing a good job.

“I was never warned or given some type of warning that I was not doing a good job.” Fields said. “It was a retaliation.”

Related story: Lake City City Council meets to discuss former HR manager’s premature termination

Councilmember Todd Sampson raised many questions about Helfenberger’s practices and made the motion to terminate him.

“With the employees the morale sucks because he changes his mind from time to time,” Sampson said. “Both assistant cities managers resigned or were asked to resign...IT director was qualified and she was forced to resign.”

Residents spoke for and against Helgenberger’s performance.

After all parties made comments during the meeting, what happened next shocked almost everyone there. The council voted 3 to 2 not only to terminate Helfenberger, but they also appointed Fields interim city manager.

“I’m just as shocked,” Fields expressed. “I’m just as shocked as they are.”

Mayor Stephen Witt voted against the termination and field’s new position.

“It came up pretty fast from the end of last week and I felt like he should have had a little more time to have done something,” Mayor Witt said.

Helfenberger declined comment before the meeting and left shortly after he was fired.

“We’ll welcome her aboard and work with her to do what we got to do,” Witt added

Fields and other residents believe justice was served.

“I feel good that there was some type of justice,” Fields said.

The Lake City Council has three days to provide the resolution to terminate Helfenberger and he has five days to appeal that resolution.

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